University of Mississippi research focuses on planet formation


University of Mississippi chemistry professor Ryan Fortenberry is gaining new insights into how inorganic molecules help dust and small particles in space come together to eventually form planets. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ data-lazy-src=”″ srcset=”data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAIAAAAAAAP///yH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBRAA7″/>

Posted in 5th of September 2022 |
from the University of Mississippi

An astrochemist studies the molecules that can create the building blocks of planets

Carbon is the transition element when studying molecules in space. It is essential for life, easy to study, and forms unusually strong bonds with other atoms.

With over 90 other naturally occurring elements in the periodic table, a University of Mississippi The chemist asks why scientists limit the scope of their research.

He said, “The periodic table contains other elements.” Ryan FortnberryAssociate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Although the chemistry is not as rich, and it is more difficult to study. Lots of other substances can be dangerous, toxic, or fatal.”

Some inorganic molecules may have implications for planet formation, so Fortenberry and his research team used computer models in a study to illustrate this. Present their findings in American Chemical SocietyAutumn meeting August 23 in Chicago.

“If you want to make big rocks, you have to start with small rocks, which you have to start with smaller rocks – that’s the nanoscale,” Fortenberry said. “We have a pretty good idea of ​​how to move from these dust particles to larger rocks and then to rocks as large as Earth.”

I’m thinking of particles like Puzzle Games cut off, he said. Carbon, for example, has the ability to stick four more pieces to it. In the Fortenberry study, the team “attached” three hydrogen molecules to an aluminum molecule and simulated their reaction with water.

Results? Reactions between aluminum hydride and water can form a variety of molecules. Some of these precursors can be important for minerals common in a land and other rocky planets.

“This is the first time, to my knowledge, that anyone has taken simple hydrates and created complex large nanocrystals,” Fortenberry said.

There are a number of ways to build on these findings.

“What we built is a very clean, very ideal set of conditions, but nature is a mess,” Fortenberry said. “So, we want to explore the mess with imperfect starting materials and see if they still lead to crystalline products.

“We’ve also done this with an appropriate system: aluminum. We have to be more creative with something like silicon. We can mix together other molecules that we know are in space and see how they progress.”

This work opens the door to possibilities for future cooperation, he said Heather Abbott Lyonformer chair of the ACS astrochemistry division and associate professor of chemistry at Kennesaw State University.

“Dr. Fortenberry’s quantum chemical calculations support observational astronomy by providing key information about compounds that may be abundant in space, but which are extremely difficult to produce in a laboratory,” Abbott-Lyon said.

“His ability to engage his audience and effectively communicate his science at ACS meetings is critical to promoting the conversation between chemists and astronomers.”

Fortenberry first discovered his passion for astrochemistry about 12 years ago at an ACS meeting.

“It was the first time I went to a meeting where astrochemistry was being discussed,” he said. “I didn’t know anyone and didn’t know what I was talking about – I asked silly questions. But sitting there I thought, ‘These are my people.'”

This realization led to a Fortenberry Postdoctoral Fellowship in NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. His advisor was a quantum chemist who was doing astrochemistry work. The rest was history.

Fortenberry’s previous studies have used supercomputers to simulate how light interacts with molecules in space. He has published over 100 articles in scientific journals and is an advocate for effective science communication.

He plans to continue his work in Ole Miss With the recently funded award no. 80NSSC22M0220 – NASA EPSCoR R3 Annex A: Energy Cost to Produce Water and Chemical Feedstock from lunar moon.

Fortenberry recently led a Mississippi EPSCoR workshop for researchers which included tips for speaking with journalists and those with non-scientific backgrounds. Workshop supported by National Science Foundation Grants OIA-1757220, MS EPSCoR Emerging Molecular Optoelectronics Center.

Written by Erin Jarrett

Fall 2022 South Talks at Ole Miss explores the topic of racing in the classroom

Tags: Heather Abbott-Lyon, Mississippi, Ole Miss, Ryan Fortenberry, University of Mississippi

About the author

University of Mississippi The University of Mississippi, affectionately known as Ole Miss, is the flagship university of Mississippi. A member of the elite group of R1: Doctoral Universities – the highest research activity by the Carnegie Classification, Ole Miss has a long history of producing leaders in public service, business, academics, and the professions. Its 16 academic departments include the main medical schools; nationally recognized faculties of accounting, law and pharmacy; The Honors College is known for its combination of academic rigor, experiential learning, and opportunities for community work. Known as one of the most beautiful cities in the country, Ole Miss University is located in Oxford, which is routinely known as one of the best university cities in the country.